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GMAT: A basic beginner's guide

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GMAT: A basic beginner's guide

by simba » Sun Mar 29, 2009 6:05 pm
GMAT: An Introduction

So... hot shot? you want to go to Business school? Like me, I’ll assume you’ve heard or read countless self-congratulating alumni singing the praises of the qualification and you’ve decided that you too want a piece. Like me, are you attracted to:

• the extended alumni network?
• blah blah blah?
• the case studies?
• the break from working life?
• yak yak yak?
• higher remuneration?
• your parent’s love?
• waffle waffle waffle?
• prestige?
• some respect from others might be nice?
• maybe even some respect from yourself might be nice?
• anything that even faintly resembles those beer swilling, anthem chanting, sex laden debauchery filled years you desperately still trying to cling to?
• All of the Above?

Anyway, you’re sold! You want to go to B school! Nothing is going to catapult you from zero to hero faster than that Harvard MBA you’re soon to be waving in people’s faces. Like me, you’ve probably packed your bags, sold the house, said your farewells to the family, the friends and the pet dog. As you are wave an enthusiastic and hearty goodbye to those losers back in your former failure-ridden life and set sail for a new life of success... something begins to dawn on you.... you are not actually in a business school yet. In fact, it fast becoming clear that a decision to go to business school does not immediately culminate in you ACTUALLY BEING in business school. How unfortunate indeed.... and as you wrestle with the stark reality of the situation, you turn to ‘the internet’ in the hope of finding a quick Harvard application form that you can send off with a $25 fee. On the contrary, even the most fleetingist of fleeting glances at the internet seem to bring up all sorts of hurdles between you and your new life. Words like ‘essays’, ‘letters of recommendation’, ‘admission’, ‘rejection’ and even the words ‘hard work’ seem to frequently appear where ever you look.
However, theres another, much more ominous looking, new word that seems to be appearing more often than the others and its unfamiliar to you: GMAT. In fact it doesn’t even sound like a proper word and its even capitalised. You avoid reading it hoping that it will go away on its own if you ignore it long enough. You avoid direct eye contact with it so as not catch its attention. You try to browse around it but to no avail – it’s everywhere. Hmmm... well then...perhaps you’ve already done whatever it is? Hysterically optimistic. Perhaps it’s sub-Saharan disease you’ve been vaccinated for? Infinitely improbable. Or maybe... just maybe... its not even relevant to your situation? Delightfully ignorant.

Let me clear things up for you by pointing out two facts for you:
• The GMAT is relevant to you
• The GMAT is important and you need to do as well as you can

The GMAT is an approximately four hour computer based exam which is scored out of 800. It consists of separate maths and verbal sections (as well as a somewhat ignored essay section). All business school applicants are required to have taken it and, in general, are to have a score that is competitive for the school that they are applying to. As one might expect, the higher ranked the school you’re interested in, the higher score you will need to be considered competitive. You are given a score and then a percentile rank which places you in relation to other exam takers. Spend some time looking into average scores at the top schools and you’ll notice that they around the 700-730 mark. Now, open this link, https://www.mba.com/mba/thegmat/gmatscor ... gmeans.htm scroll down to the bottom and take note of how many people are scoring around this level. If you aim to be going to these schools then, you need to be in the top 5 or 10% of test takers. Obviously this is going to feel more intimidating than a dobermann with anger management issues.

Now, before you start typing that apology letter to your boss asking for your old job back, wipe those tears from your face and read this GMAT fact:

• High scores are achievable for pretty much anyone as long as they are willing to work hard and prepare.

With the help of the GMAT community and its resources, you can count on teaching that irate dobermann a lesson or two. Hooray! Your MBA dream is still alive! A good thing too since after you no doubt already told your boss, in all its intricacies, where exactly he could place his job, getting it back would have required a miracle that would have impressed Moses.

So below I will detail what I would consider a great starting point for your GMAT success. It’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed at the task in hand and, counterintuitive as it might seem, the level of information and support that people are willing to offer each other. In fact there is so much advice available on this site that it can be difficult to figure out where to actually start. This is problem that I had. As you get more involved in the process, you’ll naturally become more attuned to what works best for you, but this is a great start.

Decide what score you need and are aiming for – you should do this by researching the schools your most interested and finding out what their average GMAT score was for their last years’ intake. An easy task and you’ve probably already done it. High five yourself and let’s move on.
Get familiar with the GMAT – No, I don’t mean take it to dinner and get it drunk. I mean know exactly what sections there are, how long they are, how scoring works, how the CAT system works etc. You need to know the in and outs of this exam before you can take advantage of them. There are plenty of resources for this all over the net so take a look. The GMAT wiki entry is a good start.

Decide whether you really need to get classroom sessions – What kind of classes am I talking about it? Kaplan, Veritas, Manhatten, etc. If you can’t afford it then the decision to whether to enrol for expensive classroom sessions will be an easy one. If you can afford it then it’s tempting to enrol for these classes because you may feel that this will guarantee you a good score and remove some of your performance anxiety. You know that if you get a score lower than you hoped for and you didn’t get the classes, then you may experience regret. These companies capitalise on your fear of failure by offering, and in some cases guaranteeing, a 100-150 point higher GMAT score compared to a free initial diagnostic test and can show statistical evidence to back this up. However, bear in mind that the initial free ‘diagnostic’ comparator test is expected to be taken, nay! recommended to be taken with no revision or familiarity of the GMAT material. A score is given and then this is compared to your final GMAT score (post classroom sessions of course) whereby a demonstratable improvement can be shown. So... even someone with only the slightest glimmers of intelligence can spot some of the holes in this story. It’s pretty obvious that if I do zero studying for an exam but attempt to write it anyway hoping for my ‘natural brilliance’ to carry me through – then I’m going to be comically disappointed. There’s nothing like doing a completely unfamiliar tough GMAT exam with no studying at all to remove any confidence that you once had in your abilities. This, along with the exceptionally high scores you might need, will make a guaranteed 150 point improvement seem like a god send and will have you throwing your money around like a drunk first year M&A analyst.
There’s plenty of people you’ve scored very highly on the GMAT without classes and this site is a testament to that. In fact, I personally feel that if you genuinely want to score above 650, then these classes might actually slow you down because you’ll be wanting to move at a much quicker pace. If you’re confident in your abilities, then excellent, work hard and you’ll achieve the scores you want without the classes. If however, you are genuinely not confident in your abilities and think you need a lot of help, then classes may be the boost you need. I’m not trying to say the classroom sessions are any kind of scam, they are genuinely trying to make sure you score well – but you should question whether you really need them.

Buy/Download some materials and take the diagnostic test – You’re going to need some books. They’re cheap, cheerful and are going to be your studying bread and butter and will pay dividends. Go on amazon and purchase:

The Official GMAT Guide 12th edition – the GMAT bible, qur’an and torah rolled up in one. It’s a massive book but thats because it pretty much covers everything so fret not. It’s divided into few sections but for now flick to the front where there is a ‘test’ designed to tell where your strengths and weaknesses lie. It’s not timed and the questions are relatively easy, so it should be a good way to easy yourself in. At the end, tally up the scores and see where you score relatively better and worse. Where you score worst is going to be your area where you can make most progress in and ultimately affect your score the most, so you’ll need to commit most time to these areas. By the end of this process you should be able to say things like ‘I’m good at problem solving but I struggle at sentence correction.’ If you struggle at, for example Sentance correction, then buy another book to tackle this in more depth, in this example Manhattens Sentance Correction guide would be a most apt and astoundingly brilliant decision.
Also make sure to download GMATPrep from mba.com – its a great piece of software designed by the test creators and uses real past test questions so you can really get an idea of what the test feels like.
Study the basic materials in the book – Everyday spend a few hours revising the foundation knowledge you’ll need to do well. Things like trig rules, integer properties, sentence construction, etc. Spend a week on quant, then move to verbal and then back again – just so that you keep things interesting and fresh.

Visit community sites very often – Try and spend some time on the forums on Beat the GMAT reading what other people have to say. It’s an excellent motivational tool and many problems you come across will not be unique to you. As such the topic is probably all ready covered. Spending time on the these forums will also make you feel part of a community since it’s easy to feel a little isolated when studying for this exam on your own.

Pick a test day – take the plunge and book a test for 2-3 months in the future so you have a great date to aim for. Don’t make the mistake I did which was to wait to book the test till I was pretty much ready to take it, at which point I had to choose a test date sometime in the future which forced me to wait an agonising couple of weeks extra to take a test I just wanted to get done. If you have the time, take a test after the 2 month mark and then the 3 month, if you are unhappy with your first score or think you could do significantly better. Bear in mind that it’s not worth a retake if you think a 10 or 20 point change can be achieved but might be something to consider if you feel you are perhaps 50 points off.

OKAY! So.... the stuff here should take a couple of weeks or so to complete at least. By which time you’ll have a very good understanding about what the test is all about and this guide’s advice will be pretty much moot since you’ll have developed your own ideas on an approach that best suits you. Stay positive and enthusiastic about the test and you should do well. Losses in motivation and frustration are common and Beat the GMAT community is going to get you through these testing times so take full advantage of it. Try to register yourself a profile and contribute in some way to the community, whether that be words or advice or just some frustrated banter – you can be sure it will help someone somewhere.

Pretty soon you’ll have taken a huge successful step to waving your MBA in front of everyone’s faces so you can be happy about that, despite how grossly smug I’m sure you’ll be. Good luck!


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by beatthegmat » Sun Mar 29, 2009 8:50 pm
Wow, what an incredible post! Thanks so much for collecting these thoughts, this is going to be helpful for so many students in the future!
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by TedCornell » Mon Mar 30, 2009 9:51 am
wow. kudos!!! You've put a lot of time into this one.


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by Bara » Mon Mar 30, 2009 12:09 pm
Great post! Thanks for putting in the thought and effort - - It will be very helpful for MANY people, here.

I wanted to point out that there are plenty of people who get higher scores on a diagnostic exam than on later tests. This is often the result of feeling calm and confident starting out, and not knowing 'what they don't know' until they start a class, study program, etc., Then, an anxiety creeps in and confidence and calmness, departs. Here, the student will need come to terms with their natural ability being fine tuned, not completely overhauled. As they say: you don't need to fix what ain't broken. Hopefully the anxiety and stress will vanish as well. If not, there are ways to deal with that too...but I won't get into that here.

To increase one's score, however one is going to go about it, should include taking careful inventory on what needs improvement AND what needs to be understood. If you get answers correct, but don't know why - - you got lucky. And you have more to learn.

Finding the test-writer's voice, gaining greater fluency and depth of your skill sets, trusting your intuition (when its worthy of being trusted - - it isn't always), ability to (correctly) hack off wrong answers...are all helpful parts of the process, and there are many resources, classes, and products out there that can help you do this with ease and comfort. BTG is awesome in presenting so much of it in a cohesive user-driven way.

Keep up the great contributions!
Bara Sapir, MA, CHt, CNLP
Founder/CEO City Test Prep
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by pJackson79 » Mon Mar 30, 2009 11:51 pm
Bara wrote:I wanted to point out that there are plenty of people who get higher scores on a diagnostic exam than on later tests. This is often the result of feeling calm and confident starting out, and not knowing 'what they don't know' until they start a class, study program, etc., Then, an anxiety creeps in and confidence and calmness, departs.
I think this is me...LOL How can I improve and fix this problem that is hurting my score?
Last edited by pJackson79 on Tue Mar 31, 2009 4:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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by VP_Jim » Tue Mar 31, 2009 1:07 pm
Nothing new to add - I just want to give an "amen!" to what Bara said above. Most of my students' scores drop on the second practice test. This is obviously cause of a lot of anger/frustration - after all, they paid a lot of money for my prep course and their scores went down! The reason, I think, is that they just learned all this new stuff and are trying to apply it on the test, but they aren't yet proficient enough at all these new techniques.

Some students get frustrated, give up, and their scores go back to where they were originally - but usually no higher. Other students stick with it and improve eventually - and their scores go up quickly once they get the hang of everything.

Make sure you're in the second group!
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by chicks » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:50 pm

Congratulations on your score!

What books did you use to study for the test? I hear the OG and the Companion are good resources. What about any of the Kaplan, MGMAT, Princeton books did you use any of these?

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by simba » Fri Apr 03, 2009 3:15 am
Ahhh, i used
OG quantitative
Manhatten SC guide
Manhatten Review TURBO(!!!)charge your gmat - not that great

computer/online resources I used online were
Manhatten CAT tests (free access with their SC guide though)

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by canada_sms » Sat Apr 04, 2009 4:09 pm
Great post...

Some people just enroll in a prep class and think that they'll get a higher score. Unfortunately, you still have to do the work. There's simply no way around it. The advantage of taking a prep class is that you have structure and a proven framework for success not to mention access to an instructor.

When I took Veritas, we had about 20 students in the class. Out of the 20, I think about 5 didn't keep up with homework and ultimately didn't seem too serious about taking the test (slackers/peanut gallery). About 10 who would do the homework but were not aggressive about tackling their weaknesses (the 600-700 club). About 5 who were serious about the test, did all the homework, asked good questions, and focused on incrementally improving (the 700+ club).


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by Bara » Sat Apr 04, 2009 7:14 pm
There are several reasons why subsequent GMAT (diagnostic) scores may decrease after one's first diagnostic test, and there are many things one can do about it.

I agree with Jim: sometimes when a person learns new things, it slows them down. Once one fully integrates new methods, theirs pace (hopefully) increases and performance improves. People often freak when they see a score decrease. They sometimes don't recover from the 'freaking' aspect and consciously, or unconsciously, reject the new ways of doing things -- they think they know better. This causes other problems later on with the course/tutor losing traction due to the student not 'trusting' the process. At this point, if this happens to a client, I believe it is important for the teacher to talk with the student about the (potential) reasons for the score change, and explain why the score might have changed.

Like any relationship, learning and integrating new techniques take time to develop.

For the hell of it, I'm including a Marge Piercy poem:

The Seven Of Pentacles

Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.

Why? You may ask. Well, it's simple. Besides liking the poem, I believe it provides another metaphor for preparing for the GMAT. (And I believe the GMAT itself offers test takers a 'metaphoric' opportunity to demonstrate their business acumen to the schools they're applying to.)

The relationship you have with your own education and process will run it's own course. Your conscious job is to put in the work, the 'mulching' the time to digest the material and gain fluency, will be your unconscious process. Then things happen. They run their course, you learn, integrate and actualize. You become that which you seek to become. We all have our rhythms, and you've studied and taken tests before. So: what is your rhythm, and how does it impact your GMAT study program?

The way we do some things, is the way we do many things. SO. What do you do about this problem, ye whose later diagnostic test scores go down?

Figure out why YOU aren't scoring as well since the diagnostic test. Identify if you have blocks or resentments towards what you're learning or the reasons why you have to take this darn test.
Commit yourself to learning from and accepting the plateaus, back-stepping, and slowing down, knowing full well it's part of the process. And realize that you're only in control of one part of the process: the study, engaged, balance-seeking part.

Being involved with this kind of endeavor, as well as any other endeavor, you're going to find that balance, surrender, self reflection and giving yourself time, space and acceptance, will serve you well. The material on this test really is finite. Learn it. Eat and breathe it. But get outside as well, and do some gardening.
Bara Sapir, MA, CHt, CNLP
Founder/CEO City Test Prep
Maximize your Score, Minimize your Stress!
GMAT Badass and Test Anxiety Relief Expert
SPEEDREADING: https://citytestprep.com/mindflow-workshops/
ANXIETY RELIEF: https://citytestprep.com/mindfulness-therapy/
BOOK: https://tinyurl.com/TPNYSC
TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McA4aqCNS-c